Scotland

Founder of the modern oil industry to be honoured

  • 8 November 2011
  • From the section Scotland
James Young
Image caption Young reaped the rewards of his innovation, amassing fabulous wealth

A "forgotten hero" of Scottish science is to be honoured by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC).

It is to announce the award of a chemical landmark plaque to mark the 200th anniversary of James Young's birth in Drygate, Glasgow.

"Paraffin" Young distilled a liquid seeping from a coal mine which could light lamps or lubricate machinery.

By opening the world's first oil refinery, he laid the foundations for the modern oil industry.

His innovation in 1851, nine years before the Americans started drilling for oil, created a shale oil boom around the Bathgate refinery in West Lothian.

In contrast to many scientific pioneers, Young reaped the rewards of his innovation, amassing fabulous wealth.

He used his fortune to indulge his passions for yachting, travelling and scientific study.

Young also funded philanthropic projects, financing explorer and anti-slavery campaigner David Livingstone's African journeys.

But, since his death in 1883, Young's fame has waned.

RSC President Prof David Phillips has said it is time a statue is raised in his memory.

In a speech prepared for the RSC's Science and the Scottish parliament event, he said: "Not only was James Young a great scientist, he was a great human being and his legacy continues today.

"He paid for statues in memory of his great friend David Livingstone and to his old mentor Thomas Graham - at Glasgow Cathedral and in George Square respectively.

"Surely it is time we pay for a statue in James Young's honour to inspire the scientists of the future."

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